What do Aesop, an organic green grocer, and coffee shop have in common? They’ve all been designed by young South African design firm Master Studio, creating a string of visually connected spots in the emerging Cape Town suburb of Sea Point. Despite their different functions, the trio of design-focused boutiques employ the same material palette, ethos and atmosphere, as envisioned by their steadfast designer.
Yaniv Chen, co-founder of Master Studio, secured the project because of ‘one key principle’. “When you’re a young company like we are, you’re on the hunt for an aesthetic that is unique to you,’ he explains. ‘It’s very easy in today’s age for design to become derivative. What got us in the door was our understanding of the balance between minimalism and warmth, alongside our emphasis on the past, which we translate into a contemporary context.”
According to Chen (who lives in the area), the locale is changing by the day. “The community has become quite young and exciting,” he explains, referencing the growing bicycle commuter-culture, which is “great for the city, and obviously our carbon footprint”; a restaurant called The Shop, “opened by a lovely husband-and-wife team, with fantastic food and the original 1970s and 80s vernacular of Sea Point instilled in the design”; and Hescheng restaurant, which is “not beautiful, but offers the best Chinese food in Cape Town,” and has been there forever. The influx of foot traffic into the area has allowed businesses like this to thrive; something that makes Chen “personally, incredibly happy.”
Paulines, the coffee shop Master Studio has just completed, has attracted coffee culture vultures. “On this end of Sea Point there were no coffee shops until Paulines opened,” Chen explains. “It has added huge value, and created a fantastic street culture that wasn’t here before.” The narrow, standing-room only coffee bar pairs texturally interesting walls clad in Sisal (a natural fibre from the Agave plant) with the clean, functional lines of a Corian bar, together forming a space you’ll want to linger in long after your espresso has been drained.
Chen was keen to reflect the district that he respects and calls home in each of the interiors. “The Aesop store integrates the suburb’s architectural vernacular into the space’s fabricated forms,” he adds. “Throughout Sea Point, there is a strong art deco influence, and we wanted to pay homage to the South African architects of the past by creating curved forms juxtaposed by strong linear elements.”
Chen achieved this local specificity, while ringing true to the shared vision of Aesop stores around the world (which are frequently designed by local talent). He chose to maintain simplicity, providing a plain vessel for the products to be displayed, opposed to a space with superfluous design elements. Characterful warmth breaks up the clean lines, in the form of Supawood – a hardy substrate made of compressed sawdust. “In keeping with the stores’ holistic ideology we chose to line the space with this material. No piece is the same, and colours change in accordance with the wood the sawdust comes from.”
Like the Aesop project, Sans (a mini department store and green grocer) is inspired by Japanese woodworking techniques, craft, and tradition; three things upheld by each product stocked inside. Master Studio respected this methodology by creating all of its own joinery, with no screws, nails or bolts, particularly in the architecture of movable shelving units that delineate the multi-purpose space into separate food and furniture sections.
The three, street-facing boutiques are a stone’s throw from each other, and their shared aesthetic gives the district a unique visual identity. But the area remains in flux. “Many property development companies are sadly demolishing the old Victorian houses and art deco apartment blocks, building soulless grey apartment buildings in an effort to further gentrify Sea Point,” Chen explains. Not on his watch. Master Studio is currently on a mission to restore and save a heritage home in the area. If these three Sea Point projects are anything to go by, expect a thoughtful fusion of styles, ages and materials that respect the tradition of this somewhat unlikely Cape Town suburb, while nodding to the potential of its future.
As seen on Wallpaper